Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004. We see images of girls who don't like how they look, then type encourages us to help them realize how beautiful they really are.
It's an empowering message that was wildly successful at selling women Dove products to improve how they look.
While the insincerity of such brand-fuelled empowerment is finally being openly discussed on social media, other marketers realize they can still benefit from making it look like they're advocating on behalf of women.
In a recent Pantene ad, we see young women apologizing, mostly to men, and mostly for having a mind of their own. Then type appears, saying, "Don't be sorry. Be strong and shine." At the end, we see the Pantene logo with the words, "Shine strong."
This message communicates on several levels. Top of mind, women are meant to think, "They're right. Why do I apologize so much? I'm going to stop doing that. Gee, thanks Pantene."
On another level, women are supposed to see the connection between having shiny, strong hair and feeling stronger emotionally.
And finally, women are expected to buy Pantene to reinforce their decision to stop apologizing so much. Throughout, Pantene emerges as an advocate for women and benefits from increased sales.
In a recent ad for Always feminine hygiene products, women and men are asked to demonstrate how it looks to "run, throw and fight like a girl." They all portray inept ditziness.
Then a group of young girls is asked to demonstrate the same things, and they do it with strength and accomplishment.
Then type tells us, "A girl's confidence plummets during puberty. Always wants to change that."
Yet another example of the empowerment ploy. Notice how this ad could just as easily have ended with "Guess Jeans wants to change that" or "Weight Watchers wants to change that."
Sadly, artificial advocacy has been going on long before Dove started using it, like in this commercial from 1968:
Similar to Dove, Pantene and Always, Virginia Slims made a big show of advocating for women's rights, and used the resulting goodwill to entice women into buying a product — which, in this case, was linked to cancer.
The best way to combat this form of manipulation is to enjoy the advocacy of such ads, while questioning whether the product itself is capable of delivering empowerment on any level.